Friendly URLs should not use dashes to represent spaces
Surely nobody with the slightest respect for the English language would use dashes instead of spaces. In a title, URL, or anywhere else. Similarly, nobody with any appreciation of the power and utility of basic punctuation would hyphenate every word indiscriminately.
If I use punctuation, in a friendly URL or in any other context, I endeavour to use it correctly. I don't put dashes where they don't belong. If I hyphenate, I do so for good reason. Good technology does not constrain the use of language or corrupt its meaning. There are other characters available that can provide a benign substitute for a space, like "_", the underscore.
This is not to be confused with conservative snobbery. I welcome positive developments in the use of English, like SMS abbreviation or "text speak" which -- in the appropriate context -- manifests a pragmatic evolution of the written word. However, correct punctuation is a serious matter.
Dashes can change the meaning
The presence of a single "-" symbol can dramatically alter the meaning of a simple phrase, as can the placement of the symbol. It is not a neutral character. In conclusion, incorrect punctuation can create statements which are ambiguous, misleading, or even untrue.
- man eating fish
- man-eating fish
- you will work twenty four hour shifts
- you will work twenty four-hour shifts
Symbols serve an important role
Articles on web sites could easily have titles and friendly URLs with statements like these. Imagine the potential implications if the "-" symbol was misplaced or misused in a medical text -- it could literally make the difference between life and death. In conclusion, the proper use of punctuation, symbols and special characters -- producing clear, accurate statements -- is well-demonstrated by technical or scientific text, in which high complex information must be communicated clearly and accurately.
- -196 oC is the boiling-point of liquid-nitrogen
- N-methyl-d-aspartate receptor-induced toxicity is calcium-dependent
I believe that rogue dashes in URLs are a transient phenomenon. The technology will nature. The next generation of content management systems will be better and more consistent. Eventually a consensus will emerge on the best delimiter for friendly URLs --probably the underscore.
I can't imagine any of the editorial colleagues I've worked with -- from editorial directors at the world's largest online open-access scientific publishing company, to editorial assistants in a media company writing-up celebrity gossip -- deliberately misusing punctuation marks in the title of a web page. Yet the rules for punctuation in friendly URLs should be a decision made by editorial and/or business people, not technical people.
08 August 2009